LittleText Prople: Lab acquires, users speculate

It’s been over a year since Linden Lab last put out a Press Release – long enough for most of us to have given up looking at the official Linden Research PR page (I was checking monthly up until December, then lost the will after a year of silence). Fortunately, Tateru Nino has kept a weather eye on things, because yesterday, Linden Research did slip out a release, announcing the acquisition of LittleTextPeople, a move linked directly with the company’s upcoming new products, as the press release states:

Best known for Second Life®, Linden Lab will grow its digital entertainment offering by launching several new stand-alone products this year. Now part of Linden Lab, the talent and technology of LittleTextPeople will support the development of these new forms of interactive entertainment.

LittleTextPeople was founded by Emily Short, and Richard Evans. Short is perhaps best known for her work in Interactive Fiction, starting with her 2000 title Galatea, and her psychology-complex NPCs, while Evans was formerly the Senior AI Architect at Electronic Arts (spot the connection! 🙂 ), where he was involved in the development of The Sims 3.

The press release describes LittleTextPeople thus:

LittleTextPeople explores the gameplay possibilities of nuanced social interaction. The company’s core technology is a simulator able to model social practices and individual personalities. Combine the simulations with the expressive freedom of fiction and the result is gameplay that more closely resembles the rich emotional dialogue of a novel, rather than a fight scene in an action movie.

In breaking the news to a wider SL audience, Tateru’s piece has drawn very mixed reactions, some fairly negative, some speculating on how the acquisition might fit with LL’s plans for the development of NPCs (Non-player Characters) within SL. However, at this point in time, such commentary is only speculation – Linden Research give absolutely no indication that the experience gained via this acquisition will have wider application within Second Life. As Rod Humble himself comments in the press release:

“LittleTextPeople brings a depth and breadth of AI and interactive story development expertise that is a great fit for Linden Lab as we launch multiple new products,” said Rod Humble, CEO of Linden Lab. “The result of this investment will be a new type of digital entertainment that modernizes the novel as a shared story-telling experience.”

Note the emphasis on the intended product – “A new type of digital entertainment” – rather than any overt link to Second Life. However, one cannot deny that the acquisition may have a broader fit for Linden Lab further down the line as products and ideas mature, particularly as NPC capabilities are seen as a major development for SL during 2012 and elements of which are even now entering a test phase. As such, it may well be interesting to see where this relationship leads over time.

The negative reactions to Linden Research broadening its product brief appear to stem from the belief that doing so detracts from on-going development of Second Life. However, there would seem to be little in the way of substantive evidence that this is so. As evidenced by the Linden Research recruitment page over the last few months, the company is clearly recruiting fresh talent clearly aimed at the development of these new products while continuing to recruit talent for the development and support of SL. Similarly, as has been frequently pointed out, currently Linden Research is somewhat exposed in the fact that it does only have the one product – Second Life – in its portfolio. This weakens the company’s position somewhat in terms of attracting wider investment and places a lot of pressure on SL to perform well financially. Over time, and assuming the new products are successful, diversification should be beneficial for the company and Second Life in both of these areas.

Obviously, the main problem here is that, when all is said and done, we actually know very little about the new products themselves and how they will be marketed and their likely appeal. As such, it is possibly easier to voice concerns than might otherwise be the case.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting move, and one is curious as to what comes next where these new products are concerned – and how soon it will be before we do start seeing more substantial information emerging about their development.

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With thanks to Tateru Nino